Henderson is the modern version of an ancient Scottish patronymic. In other words, it’s a name derived when children of the first generation are known as their father ’s sons that is, Henry’s sons. In the next step, it became a single name (Henrison) and then a permanent surname.
On the basis of Henderson family lore, we are aware of several fathers named Henry who passed on their name in this fashion. Some day we may find that there was a single source, but, for now, we have to be content to study the various roots and branches of the Henderson family tree.
The Henderson Glencoe Branch (Highlanders)
Norsemen settled the lands around Glencoe and Ardnamurchan. When George M. Henderson, a Canadian, visited the area in the 1960s, the local lore was that the Glencoe Hendersons had Norse ancestry, because the inhabitants, like the Northmen, were noted for their size and strength, as well as their general appearance, including fair skin and hair.
The Chieftain of the MacEanruigs ruled Glencoe for some three centuries until displaced by the MacDonalds, when King Robert the Bruce gave the area to Angus Og, Lord of the Isles, and Chief of Clan Donald, for his support at Bannockburn in 1314. The last Henderson Chief at Glencoe was Dugald MacHendry (although English dispatches after the 1692 Masacare allude to killing two chiefs …?).
In 1292, the chiefship descended with the duthus (principal estate), not with the person. As tradition held at the time, Dugald MacHendry ‘s daughter married into Clan Donald and the chiefship passed on with her. Her husband was Iain Fraoch (Heather John), on whom Angus bestowed the lordship of Glencoe.
Fraoch and his wife lived at Inverlochy for a time and it was there that their first son and heir was born. He was known as Iain Abrach, or John of Lochaber. In due time, he became the first MacIain of Glencoe. According to the old Scottish law of succession, the Henderson chiefship passed down to him from his mother. Whether known as MacIain or MacDonald of Glencoe,however, they were the smallest branch of Clan Donald.
The MacDonalds and the MacEanruigs lived amicably together. Although our ancestry lost their lands and their status as a separate clan, it should be noted that there were Hendersons still living in this Highland glen long after MacIain’s power was gone.
Generally speaking, the Hendersons lived in two townships in the rugged valley of Glencoe. The townships were called Carnoch and Achnacone, and it was in these townships that MacIain kepts his summer and winter homes.
Old Iain Fraoch appointed the Hendersons to be his hereditary pipers. One of our ancestors, Big Henderson of the Chanters, was remembered as MacIain’s personal hereditary piper, but little else is known about him. Also designated as his bodyguard, the Hendersons performed a vital function and, until death of the last MacIain Chief, they were accorded the honor of the first “lift” of the remains when the chiefs were carried to the burial plot.
The 1692 Massacre at Glencoe – Murder Under Trust
One of the bleakest pages of Clan Henderson’s history began shortly after the defeat of the Jacobites at Killecrankie in 1689. Uneasy with the still-rebellious nature of the Highlanders who had participated in that conflict, King William of Orange offered indemnity to all those Highland rebels in exchange for signing an oath of allegiance by a deadline of 1 January 1692. Many chiefs were late in signing.
Several explanations have been offered why MacIan took the oath late. Some claim he misread the proclamation, others that he was delayed by a snowstorm. Nonetheless, he signed the oath on 9 January assured by Campbell of Arkinglas, who administered the oath, that MacIan had the protection of the garrison at Fort William.
Sir John Dalrymple, the Under-Secretary of State and second Earl of Stain, reportedly knew that MacIan had taken the oath, albeit late. Dalrymple, however, was determined to make an extreme example of the MacIans, not only for their support of the Stewarts, but also for their reputation for stealing cattle. Dalrymple was also said to be concerned that the people of Glencoe were still Catholic and, therefore, not completely loyal to their Protestant king. Dalrymple’s claimed apprehension was groundless, however, since most of the residents of Glencoe were considered Episcopalian Protestants.
On 11 January, Dalrymple issued instructions for an attack on the MacIans. “This is the proper season,” he wrote from London, “to maul them in the cold, long nights.” If there was any possibility that Dalrymple intended to show at least some mercy toward them, he firmly dispelled it with his next line: “I hope the soldiers will not trouble the Government with prisoners.”
On 1 February, two companies of government troops, about 120 soldiers commanded by Captain Robert Campbell, set out from Fort William to Glencoe. Many residents of Glencoe were not alarmed, however, because they believed that the troops were going to attack MacDonnel of Glengarry, who was known to be sympathetic to the Jacobite cause. Official word also went out that the troops were moved into the glen because there was not enough room to lodge all of them at Fort William.
Unaware of the real purpose of the troops, the MacDonalds of Glencoe received Campbell and his soldiers warmly, even though there had been a long-standing Highland rivalry between the Campbells and the MacDonalds. In the beginning, both Clans had supported Robert the Bruce. But eventually, the Campbells supported King William and Protestantism in the English Civil Wars. In addition to this point of contention, each clan had continuously raided the other ’s property and livestock for years–if not centuries. Neverthless, the MacDonalds had no reason to believe that Captain Campbell and his troops meant them harm, a belief bolstered by the fact that Captain Campbell’s niece was married to the MacDonald chief’s younger son.
For ten days, the residents of Glencoe which included the Hendersons, the MacIans, the Johnstons, the MacColls, the Rankins, and other families of the glen generously extended the hospitality of their homes and entertained Campbell and his men. A historian of the time wrote: “They had all been received as friends by these poor people, who intending no evil themselves, little suspected that their guests were designed to be their murderers.”
On 12 February 1692, an additional body of troops joined the soliders already in the glen and presented Captain Campbell with orders from Fort William: Kill all MacDonalds under the age of 70.
One story, never fully substantiated, recounts that one of Campbell’s asked one of his Henderson hosts to accompany him on a walk after the evening meal on the night before the surprise massacre was scheduled to take place. As would be expected, the soldier was duty-bound not to say anything about his real mission at the MacDonald’s home for the past week plus. However, during the walk, the soldier and his Henderson host came upon a large stone. Pausing before the stone, the soldier is reputed to have said: “Ach, grey stone, ye havin’ been every right ta be where you are, but if you were ta be knawin’ what I be knawin’, ye twad nae be here in the morn.” Today, this stone is known as Clach MacEanruig (Henderson Stone).
As the note from Fort William had instructed, Campbell and his troops began their bloody work promptly at 5 the next morning. Old MacIain, 70, was killed in his nightshirt, shot through the back of the head. His wife was beaten and one of her fingers bitten off in an attempt to steal her gold rings. The soldiers then set fire to the home and dragged her out to die in the snow. In all, some thirty-eight residents of the Glen, including children and even infants, were murdered. Some reports said that twice that many died trying to escape. Virtually every home had been torched and the cattle driven away. The dead included 22 Hendersons-by unconfirmed accounts.
But it could have been worse. Surprisingly, the soldiers had failed to seal off the pass out of the glen. This allowed about 150 men and their families to escape. In addition, after the hint from the Campbell soldier to his Henderson host, some of the Hendersons reportedly stayed awake and on guard through the night before.
As recounted earlier, the Hendersons were bodyguards and pipers to the MacDonalds of Glencoe at the time. The MacDonalds traditionally used a large rock escarpment nearby as a place to signal other Clan members. The rock was also known as “Signal Rock,” since it was high enough to help carry the sound of a piper. The Hendersons, however, beleived that the rock was only useful to carry a warning or rallying tune if the weather was favorable. Consequently, the Henderson pipers would always chose Clach MacEanruig (Henderson Stone) as their platform for any rallying call. On the morning of the massacre, the English Regimental Piper used the less-effective Signal Rock to call the English troops to arms. This may account for why some troops never sealed the glen.
Scots and English alike greeted the news of the massacre with shock and outrage. Because of the high levels from which the treachery had originated, the act was deemed to be “murder under trust.” But Dalrymple, the primary instigator of the treachery, was protected by his king and managed to escape prosecution.
Although the massacre preceded the Highland Clearances by more than fifty years, several of the families did not return to the glen. Some went to Ireland, some to England, some to France, and still others created completely new lives in North America. By the very early 1800s, as a result of both the massacre and the subsequent evacuation, there were less than 30 people living in the Glencoe valley.
Ironically, in spite of the massacre, many of the Scots who emigrated to the New World, including those exiles from Glencoe, continued to view themselves as loyal to the Crown. When the American Revolution began, many of the colonial Scots fought for the British Army. When they lost, the British relocated amny of these loyalists to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada. A prestigious British Award was created for these loyalists, known as the United Empire.
Public records indicate that a Richard Henderson of Kirconnel, which is in Dumfries, married Jean Brown in Lanark in 1799. A son, James Henderson, was born 25 June 1804, in Ayrshire. At about the age of 24, James reportedly emigrated to Canada and became a member of a substantial colony of Scots in Black Cape, Quebec. James died there on 12 January1875. The Hendersons in Black Cape appear to trace their ancestry to Glencoe, since records show their physical features tend to track those of the Glencoe Hendersons. For example, they were tall (six feet or more), blonde, blue-eyed, long-armed and noted for their athletic prowess. As of yet, however, a definitive historical connection has yet to be made.
The Henderson Caithness Branch (Highlanders)
Caithness is the northern-most county of Scotland, and was for many centuries a Norse colony under the rule of the Norwegian crown. The Norse royalty established an Earldom in the island of Orkney, just north of Caithness, as the seat of their power in northern Scotland. The Orkney Jarls created a peaceful, stable territory that fostered many great sea-faring norse families’ dominion in northern Scotland.
One such family was the Gunns, who were descendants of Sweyn Asleifsson, the “ultimate viking”. The Gunn family takes their name from Gunni, his grandson who established himself as the power broker for the Norwegian Earl (Jarl) in northern Scotland. Through marriage, conquest and loyal service, the Gunn family gained power, influence and lands across Caithness and what would become Sutherland.
The Scottish crown was eventually able to consolidate the lands of the north when King James III married Margaret, the daughter of Christian I of Denmark in 1468. Her dowry was the lands of Caithness, Orkney and Shetland. To implement the new Scottish king’s will in the north, James chose his Norman cousins, the Sinclairs, to take up the role of “Earl of Caithness and Orkney”. The Sinclairs quickly realized the pivotal role of the Gunn clan in all maters of Caithness, and like the Orkney Jarls before them, relied on the Gunns to implement their rule. The Gunns became the Crowners of the Earl of Caithness (Crowner was the title for the enforcer and sheriff).
As the new lands of Caithness prospered, other great families moved north, including the Keiths and the Sutherlands. Gradually the Gunns found themselves ringed by clans that were at times hostile to their role. The Keiths and Sutherlands steadily chipped away at their influence and lands.
By the mid 1400s, the Keiths began to openly challenge the Gunns for supremacy in Caithness and Sutherland. However, the wound that opened a 500 year feud was the kidnapping of the beautiful Helen, daughter of Lachlan Gunn of Braemore. Helen was to be married to a local noble but on the eve of her wedding, Dugald Keit, a retainer of Keith of Ackergill, schemed to take Helen for himself. With a party of his clansmen, Keith surrounded the great hall at Breamore and killed most of the wedding party. Helen was taken captive, and they carried the girl, who had spurned Dugald Keith’s earlier advances, to their castle at Ackergill. Despondent and unwilling to surrender herself to Dugald Keith, Helen threw herself from the summit of tower there.
Over the decades, the bloodshed between the Gunns and the Keiths continued and escalated. Throughout the 1400s, the Gunns struggled to protect their lands from incursion. Revenge attacks went back and forth–for an ever growing list of wrongs and tragedies–returned in kind between the two clans. These ongoing conflicts between the Gunns and the Keiths include the Battle of Tannach Moor (Blar Tannie -a bloody conflict in 1426 where the Keiths and the Gunns both lost many men. Then, again at Mammistanes and then at Dirlot (1464) in Strathmore, where the less numerous Gunns inflicted heavy losses on the Keiths.
In a bid to set aside their feud with the Keiths, George Gunn, who held the title of “Crowner”, offered a peace summit in July of 1478 at a neutral location on holy ground. Both clans agreed that the chiefs would come escorted by “twelve horse” of each clan at the chapel of St.Tears (St.Tayre) on the coast north of Wick. The meeting was envisioned by both sides as a “battle of champions” to once and for all settle the feud. George Gunn arrived first with twelve men consisting of his sons and his finest fighters who entered the chapel to pray.
A short time later the Keith party arrived with 2 men astride each horse and proceeded to slaughter every Gunn inside the chapel. Several of the Crowner ’s sons escaped, leaving their father and kinsmen butchered at the altar. The Keiths took the chief’s armor, his weapons and the enormous brooch that he wore as a badge of office to the earl of Caithness, and retreated to their castle at Dirlot.
Beaten and bloodied but thirsty for vengeance, the chief’s 3rd son, Henry, roused a few men still fit to fight and approached Dirlot that very night. The Gunns found the Keiths in full celebration quaffing great drafts of ale. Henry drew back on his bow and let fly an arrow which found its mark in the throat of the chief of Clan Keith. As he did so, he shouted in Gaelic, “Iomcharagnn Guinach gu Cadhaich,” which translates to, “A Gunn’s compliments to a Keith.” In the confusion that followed, many of the Keiths where slain and the weapons and brooch of the Crowner were recovered.
In the aftermath of the battle, Henry and his men returned victorious to Gunn clan territory, having avenged the murder of his father, the chief. In the days following, Henry Gunn donned his father ’s armor, weapons and brooch and attempted to assume the chieftain’s role, as well as the role of Crowner (office of sheriff). However, George Gunn’s oldest surviving son, Hamish (James), claimed ownership over the titles as his birthright. The division threatened to erupt into violence between large segments of the Gunn clan until Henry relented and surrendered his claims and the chief’s possessions to James (although it is sometimes told that Henry kept the Crowner ’s brooch).
As a result of that family squabble, Henry decided to remove himself and his kin from the Gunns, and never again take that name. When he departed, he took with him his children (both sons and daughters), their families, and his closest friends and kinsmen. They dispersed across Caithness and Sutherland taking up the same rural farming life they had had when they were Gunns. This “broken” branch of the Gunns became the Henderson’s (Henry’s Sons) of Caithness. However, the resulting reduction of the Clan Gunn as a fierce and cohesive force of order in the North would have profound ramifications for the every day lives of people across these lands.
In the early 1700s, new colonies were opening for settlement in places like America, Canada and Australia. These new, wide- open lands were begging for strong hands and industrious spirits to tame the frontier, and promised hard working families a chance to create something lasting that they owned. This was in contrast to their lives in the northern Highlands, where the land they farmed was owned by a feudal lord (or laird) to whom the famers were wholly subservient. The call of the new frontiers was strong for many young Scots, and as the 18th century progressed, an increasing number of ships left Scottish shores with loads of human cargo bound for the new world. Many of this first wave of Caithness immigrants landed in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the English colonies in Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas.
In 1745, an uprising of clans in support of the Jacobite heir to the throne, Bonnie Prince Charlie (whom the Caithness clans supported but did not participate in the uprising), ended in failure. As a result, the victorious English enacted the “Act of Proscription”, which banned the Gaelic tongue, highland dress, clan affiliation and even playing bagpipes. It was, for it’s time, a clear act of ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, punishing taxes and remuneration fines were levied against the Highlanders and the burdens on the landowners and their tenant farmers increased dramatically. The pressure for people to leave Scotland increased as daily life became increasingly difficult and oppresive. The folk in Caithness and Sutherland responded by finding any way possible to leave the Highlands. They left in droves for the growing industrial centers of Glasgow, Edinburgh or London, or for the new world colonies.
The last great push to leave Scotland was part of a sad period of Scottish history known as the Highland Clearances. During this period of great upheaval, land owners who had been forced in the wake of the Jacobite uprisings to move to England, decided that their land holdings in Scotland would be better used (more profitable) to raise vast herds of sheep rather than be parceled into small farms and villages used by their tenants. As a result, many families were removed from the lands, sometimes by force, from land that had been worked by their family for generations. These families, faced with the loss of their way of life, possible starvation and poverty, chose to sail from Scotland for new opportunities.
The Hendersons of the Shetlands Branch (Danes)
Much of the information on the Henderson line in the Shetlands comes by way of a ledger from William Henderson, who was born on the Island of Foula (1783). Most importantly, the journal identifies the origin of the Henderson line in the Shetlands to Hendrich Hendrichson, also known as the Count Hemison.
At the cession of the Shetlands to Scotland, most of the native gentry retired to Norway and Denmark. Of the few that remained most, if not all of them, adopted Scottish surnames and distinguishing titles (lairds) from the names of their principle estates. According to William Henderson’s journal, the Hendersons of Bunes, Brassay, Midgarth, Petister and Glouss in the Shetlands were the only families who could trace their descent from Denmark prior to the Shetlands becoming part of Scotland.
Hendrich Hendrichson, served as the Great Foude (governor, chief justice and chancellor) of Zetland (Shetland) under a commission granted by King Christian I of Denmark. Hendrich was also known as Count Hemison–an important clue. In early times, higher Scandanavian nobles had the title of Jarl or Yarle, equivalent to an earl in England. The title of count, on the other hand, was unknown in Denmark before the sixteenth century. The exception occurred when the Emperor of Germany conferred the title of Count for distinguished service of some sort. Therefore, Count Hemison was probably a count of the Holy Roman Empire, as the German empire called itself, because no such title appears in the 1685 list of Danish nobles. Since 1468, however, no descendants of Hemison have ever assumed (or laid valid claim) to the title.
Leading up the time of Count Hemison (mid 15th Century), and for many centuries before, surnames among untitled Scandanavians were virtually unheard of. Patronmyics, however, were universal. Thus, the son of, say, Swayne Anderson would be called Andrew Swainson. The eldest son was always named after the grandfather, so Andrew’s son in turn be named Swayne Anderson. The daughters also took the father ’s Christian name as her surname. No woman ever assumed her husband’s surname or changed her own when she married. Further, as the eldest son was named after his paternal grandfather, so the eldest daughter could have no other name than that of her paternal grandmother. In the case of Count Hemison, his descendants did not deviate from the established custom of patronymics for more than a century, but they were distinguished, at least in common discourse, by the titles derived from the names of their estates: Buness, Brassay, and so on.
Count Hemison arrived in the Shetlands in 1450. As chief justice, he presided in the court of appeals, ruling on the decisions of the lower judges (parish fowds) and in cases to where their jurisdictions did not extend. As chancellor, he acted as receiver general of the Scott (Danish land tax). Probably the last governor of the Shetlands under Danish rule, he returned to Denmark when the islands were mortgaged to the king of Scotland in 1468, leaving large estates to a son, who remained in the country and who became the immediate progenitor of the Hendersons of the Shetlands.
Toward the middle of the sixteenth century, during the reign of James V and Mary, Queen of Scots, the lineal descendent of Count Hemison was Magnus Ninianson, Laird of Buness and Gardie. He conferred his possessions to his son, Ninian Magnusson, who was the first to assume the Henderson name, about the early part of the seventeenth century, during the reign of Charles I.
Why Ninian Magnusson adopted the Henderson name is unclear. In his journal, William Henderson argues that it is not entirely improbable that the Hendersons of Fordell may have sprung from the same Norse family that Count Hemison did, and that the latter ’s descendants adopted the surname to confirm to Scottish customs. Potentially supporting this theory is the fact that the family arms are the same. Also, the ermine in the shield of the family arms denotes that arms had been granted for eminent legal services. To fulfill his duty as Grande Fowde, Count Hemison would had to have studied law, so it seems reasonable, claimed William Henderson, that these arms were first granted to him because he was chief of his family.
Proof of this, William said, is evident in the aforementioned old seal, on which the crescent surmounting the crest is obvious, which only the chief can use legally. This crescent, he added, is not seen in the Fordell arms (although it is otherwise the same), implying their descent from a younger branch. “That the Arms were not granted to them,” wrote William Henderson, “is evidence from the fact that the Fordell Hendersons were with only one single exception, in modern times, swordsman, gallant soldiers but not lawyers.”
Perhaps more definitive evidence will come to light to prove or disprove William’s claims.
Ninian of Buness was the father of Magnus Henderson of Buness and Gardie. Magnus divided his estates between his five sons, in addition to gifts to several daughters. The sons were named Ninian, James, Gilbert, John and David. (Although the ancient Norse language was still in use by the lower class, it is interesting to note that it was still present in the upper class. Specifically, Ninian and Gilbert are Norse names). See more on the William Henderson ledger here:
The Hendersons of Liddesdale Branch (The Borders)
Ever had a “Hobby Horse” or at least heard the term? It was derived from the horses of the Border regions of Scotland, called hobblers or hobbys. These sure-footed, fleet horses were well suited for the main activity in Liddesdale, which was “reiving”…a nice term for the act of raiding cattle from one neighbor and selling them to another.
Prior to the 17th Century, The Borders was known as the land of the “hot trod,” or the lawful pursuit of reivers. The Borders area, especially around Liddesdale, was also known as the haven for some of the most predatory clans among the border reivers. This especially applied to Armstrongs and Elliotts. George MacDonald Fraser, in his book The Steel Bonnets, recounts the experience of one visitor who could not find any churches in the area. “Are there no Christians here,” demanded the visitor. Came the reply: “Na, we’s a’ Elliotts and Armstrangs.” The ascent of James VI (James I of England) to the throne of Scotland, however, put an end to the lawlessness which had gripped the Border country.
Records indicate that by the 16th century, a Henryson had acquired a section of the border country in upper Liddesdale. Although the 1594 Act of the Scottish Parliament did not list the Hendersons as one of the Border Clans, they are recorded as living in the so-called Middle Marches during this period. One of the raiding clans that populated Liddesdale in the Middle Marches, they were without any apparent organization or fealty to any other clan, although they intermingled with the Eliotts and moved with them first to Ulster (in northern Ireland) and then to the United States. Unfortunately, little else is know about the Liddesdale branch of Clan Henderson.
The Middle Marches today are farmlands, but they have also been transitional lands as well as the center of many battles throughout Scotland’s history.
The Hendersons of Fordell Branch (Fifeshire, the Borders)
In 1374, William Henrison, Sr., was chamberlain of Lochmaben Castle near the town of Lockerbie, to the east of Dumfries. Another Henderson name from the period was Henry the Minstrel (or Blind Harry, as he is sometimes called), perhaps the best known of all those wandering bards who recited the exploits of their countrymen in Gaelic and English. Through his poetry, he helped to broaden the stature and image of William Wallace from a statesman and military strategist into to a folk hero.
In the fifteenth century, Edinburgh experienced new prosperity and the Lowlands transformed peace into commercial growth. From this stock came the establishment of Henderson of Fordell. As an aside, the name ”Fordell” was first mentioned in 1221, when Hugh de Camera gave a toft (a homestead and additional property) of his lands to the monastery of Inchcolm, in gratitude for his safe return from the Crusade. It is possible that the great Cedar of Fordell was grown from a planting brought from the Holy Land.
Thomas Henderson was the clerk of Inverkeithing Cocket in 1406. He was the father of John Henderson, customer and bailie of Inverkeithing from 1448-49. His son was Robert Henderson, a burgess (a representative of a borough) of Edinburgh. In 1486, Robert obtained a charter of land at the Mill Dam, Inverkeithing. In addition, he acquired the lands of Fordell from the estate of William de Airth. A royal charter had been signed there that year and witnessed by John Henrisoun, the sergeant of that barony, and at Castletoun, Ardmanoch. Records indicate that a David Hennerson [sic] was a tenant in 1504.
James Henderson, possibly John Henrisoun’s son, became Lord Justice Clerk (or Lord Advocate) of Scotland in 1494. It is for James for whom the lands of Fordell were erected into a barony in 1511. James Henderson was killed at Flodden in 1513, along with his eldest son, and the King, James IV. James’ second son, George Henderson, 2nd of Fordell, was admitted as a Burgess and Guild Brother of Edinburgh in 1520. For a time, George was also provost of the city.
On 10 September 1547, known as “Black Saturday,” Lord Somerset led an English army across the border between England and Scotland, and advanced on Edinburgh. The English troops met the Scots at Pinkie. George was killed at Pinkie, along with his oldest son, William.
William left another son, James, always referred to as James Henderson of Fordell. It was he who built the Fordell Caste in 1580 as it stands today. He enjoyed favor at court and married Jean, the daughter of Sir William Murray of Tullibardine and his wife, Katherine, daughter of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy. This union brought the family into a pedigree, which included not only the royal Stewarts and Plantagenets, but also William the Conqueror, Malcolm Canmore and others.
Perhaps the most famous member of this branch of Clan Henderson is Alexander Henderson (1583-1646), regarded as the leader of the Reformation in Scotland after John Knox. Born in Fife, he went to St. Andrews University, where he became a professor of philosophy in his 20’s. Within a few years, he was one of the most respected leaders of Presbyterianism. Along with Johnston of Wariston, Alexander Henderson was largely responsible for drafting the National Covenant in 1638. The document bound all who signed it to defend the King (Charles I) with their lives, but have nothing to do with his new ideas (Episcopacy) until they had been approved by a free and General Assembly, and by Parliament. By acclamation, Alexander was also chosen moderator of the historic assembly in Greyfriars’ Church in Edinburgh, which completely reformed the Scottish Kirk on Presbyterian principles and abolished Episcopacy.
James Henderson, 3rd of Fordell, died in 1640. He left numerous progeny and he saw some of the greatest changes to come to Scotland since the introduction of feudalism. In addition, he held the title of Provost of Inverkeithing. Records do not indicated how long the hereditary provostship remained in the family. Queen Mary and Lord Darnley excused him having to provide military service and from attending the wars all his life for the good service of his predecessors. James VI, with whom he enjoyed good favor, renewed this privilege.
The Fordell connection to Inverkeithing was established at least 100 years before the battle there on 20 July 1651, between the army for Cromwell and the Scots who supported Charles I. It is reasonable to assume that the Hendersons were there.
In the nineteenth century, the estate of Fordell was left by Sir John Henderson, the last baronet of Fordell (and the son of Sir Robert Bruce Henderson and successively a member of Parliament for County Fife and Stirling) to his only child and heir, Isabella Anne. In 1818, she married Sir Philip Charles Henderson of Caldwerwood Durham, the admiral of the fleet.
Isabella died on 18 December 1844. Sir Philip died on 1 April 1845, without an heir. Fordell then passed to Isabella’s first cousin, George Mercer, who then assumed the name Henderson in addition to Mercer. The Mercer-Henderson family (the Earls of Buckingham) then owned the old castle of Fordell.
The original George Mercer (later Mercer-Henderson) made no claim to the Arms of Chiefship and it lapsed for some 150 years. Notified in writing regarding the claim of Dr. John Henderson, the Earl of Buckinghamshire chose not to act. (Apparently, it is not customary for Lord Lyon to grants Arms to people with hyphenated names.)
In the 1840s the British Government began to organize and encourage the Scots to emigrate. During this time, records show that John Henderson, who traced his ancestry to Sir John Henderson, 5th of Fordell, emigrated to Australia in 1839. He acquired land in the Illawarra district and then married Margaret Dunsmore in 1843. Her family had emigrated from Northern Ireland. John and Margaret moved to the Gouldburn district because of the good land available there. This move was the beginning of the Roslyn estate.
When John and Margaret arrived in what was called the Crookwell country, there was little in the way of a home. Because it was cold, John asked a neighbor if he could collect stones from his property to build at least two fireplaces for their new home. Fortunately for John, he had enough stones to build a very elegant and comfortable house on the top of a hill, surrounded by green, rolling downs. Although the house expanded as their family grew, the extra rooms were demolished, leaving the house as it was when John and Margaret first built it.
When John died in 1870, Margaret appointed their second son, John (Jack) Cunningham, 22, as manager of Roslyn. It became Jack’s responsibility to educate and start in life his 10 younger brothers.
Every member of the family worked hard. They hand- cleared the land with axes, put the plough to it and built miles of fencing. Wheat was stored in the open and covered with thatch, and pits were dug for potatoes. Horse breeding was another important task for the boys, although more for relaxation than work. They also formed an all-brothers cricket team, but had to turn down an invitation to take the team to England because of commitments at home.
In 1877, Margaret and her sons acquired Laggan Mill, about seven miles from Crookwell. Margaret was advised that it was haunted, but she wasn’t deterred. Laggan Mill was a three- story stone building consisting of a flour mill, a general store and a spacious residence, all under the same roof.
John Cunningham Henderson married Ann Janet Macalister. Their three oldest sons were born at Roslyn. After the sale of Roslyn, they bought land at Gurrunda, where a fourth son, William, was born. William moved to Queensland as an adult. Ann Janet gave birth to her seventh child at Longreach, New South Wales. A fifth son, Sir John Neville Henderson, became one of Queensland’s most respected and well-loved knights.
Dr. John William Phillip Henderson decended from this line. It is stated on the patent of Arms that Dr. John William Philp Henderson is the male heir to the Baronet House of Fordell and that, as the heirs-in-line have ceased to use the plain Arms and Name of Henderson, he petitioned the Lord Lyon for recognition.
By this appointment, Lord Lyon erected into a single clan a number of seemingly unrelated families (or clans) whose only real link is that they all share a common surname. This action is not the only occasion in recent times that this decision has been made, however. Other examples are the Fergussons, the MacArthurs, the Livingstones and the Carmichaels , all modern clans composed of unrelated families of both Highland and Lowland origins.
The Hendersons of Ulster Plantation (Ireland)
The death 0f Queen Elizabeth in 1603 brought James VI, a Scot, to the throne of England. The fear of subjugation prompted many Irish noblemen to leave England for other parts of Europe, causing 1607 to be known as the year of “The Flight of the Earls.” Ulster, in the north of Ireland, had long been important in several English colonization schemes and this departure of the Irish nobles presented England with yet another opportunity.
As a result, James (also known as James I of England) confiscated tens of thousands of acres of their land and initiated an English plantation in Ulster. At the same time, in 1607, Jamestown, Virginia, was also settled. His objective was to transplant his fellow Lowlanders to provide a Presbyterian barrier between the Catholic Irish Celts and their Hebridean cousins.
The so-called Ulster Plantation was settled by the “undertakers”: men of affairs in Scotland and England who agreed to swear an oath of supremacy to the King, live in Ulster for at least five years, and encourage an appropriate number of Scots and English to settle in Ulster as well. There were six counties in the plantation: Donegal and Tyrone, settled primarily by Scots; Armagh and Derry, settled by the English; and Termanagh and Cavan, with mixed Scots and English settlers. The undertakers were permitted to lease land to persons of lesser stature who then could sub-lease to tenants.
Fortunately, many of the transplanted Scots did quite well commercially, competing with the English merchants. Distressed at this turn of events, the English merchants eventually engineered legislation that restricted the transplanted Scots in Ulster to deal through them. Consequently, many Ulster Scots relocated yet again to the American colonies, where they reestablished themselves and their businesses. A few even took up arms rather than suffer oppression again.
In 1845, the infamous Potato Famine occurred in Ireland. Interestingly, some of the Irish emigrated to Scotland, while at the same time many Scots left for the United States and the British Dominions.